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Fear and Trembling

Soren Kierkegaard

Terms

Overall Analysis and Themes

Preface

Absolute Mind  -  In Hegelian philosophy, an undistorted, rational view of the truth. Philosophy is the ultimate expression of the "Absolute Mind," and so is superior both to art (the aesthetic) and to faith (the religious).
Absurd  -  That which cannot be rationally explained or justified in any way, and which transcends all human and intelligible possibility. The term appears in Fear and Trembling to describe the movement of faith Abraham makes to regain Isaac. There is no reason at all that Isaac should be returned to Abraham, and yet, by virtue of the absurd, it happens.
Aesthetic  -  The lowest of Kierkegaard's three "stages on life's way": the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. The aesthetic is primarily concerned with individual experience, and individual sensory experience in particular. An aesthetic experience could range from animalistic lusts to a deep appreciation of music, but it always relates the single individual to something else. Because it works on the level of the individual, the aesthetic values privacy and hiddenness.
Anxiety  -  One translation (the other option is "dread") of the Danish word angest. Kierkegaard uses it to denote the peculiar kind of fear that is directed at no particular object, except perhaps at our own freedom. We feel anxiety when we are made aware of our freedom to choose our own fate, and to define ourselves with our choices. For instance, Abraham feels anxiety because he knows that he could retreat into the ethical at any moment. In not doing so, he defines himself as a religious, rather than as an ethical, hero.
Dialectic  -  In Hegelian philosophy, the process by which a thesis and an opposing antithesis resolve themselves into a synthesis. The classic example is the thesis of being and the antithesis of nothingness resolving into the synthesis of becoming. According to Hegel, all thought and all history move forward according to the dialectic, slowly progressing toward a better and better state.
Double movement  -  The movement required of the knight of faith. The first movement is the movement of infinite resignation, which the knight of faith shares with the tragic hero. In this movement, the knight of faith gives up everything that he holds dear and reconciles himself with this loss. The second movement, the movement of faith which takes place only by virtue of the absurd, is the movement according to which the knight of faith then regains everything he gave up in the movement of infinite resignation. These two movements combined make up the double movement of faith.
Eternal consciousness  -  A term that would have greater import in Kierkegaard's later philosophy, eternal consciousness is essentially an awareness of one's selfhood. This term is often used in connection with Platonic recollection.
Ethical  -  The second of Kierkegaard's three "stages on life's way": the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. The ethical is the expression of the universal, where all actions are done publicly and for the common good. One acts for the betterment of others rather than for oneself. Hegel considered the ethical to be the highest form of life, and Johannes agrees that it is the highest that can be understood. Fear and Trembling, in a nutshell, argues that there is the third category of the religious, and that the religious is higher than the ethical.
Faith  -  That which is required in order to make the leap into the absurd, which is required for the religious. Faith is spoken of dismissively by Hegel, who suggests that it is a lower, irrational form of thought that must be moved beyond. Johannes asserts that faith is in fact higher, and that it cannot be understood by simple reflection: faith demands passion.
Knight of Faith  -  The person that exemplifies the religious way of life. The knight of faith is not at all distinguished in appearance, since he exists, like the aesthetic hero, as a single individual and delights in the finitude of this world. Still, the knight of faith has undergone the double movement of infinite resignation and the leap of faith into the absurd by which the knight regains everything he has lost. He can delight in the finitude of this world as someone who has learned to appreciate it through loss.
Leap of Faith  -  Johannes occasionally speaks of the "leap of faith." The idea is that because the religious is absurd and cannot be understood, it cannot be approached rationally. There is no way we can think matters through and convince ourselves that it is the right step to make. Instead, we must put our faith in God and make the leap. The use of "leap" suggests that Kierkegaard believes that faith in God is a matter of personal choice that each person must make or not make. This goes against earlier rationalist philosophers such as Descartes, who thought they could prove the existence of God by means of reason.
Mediation  -  The process according to which the dialectic functions: two opposing positions are mediated into a synthesis. According to Hegel, then, all movement takes place according to mediation: what progress we perceive is really a process of mediation. Because mediation takes places on the level of ideas, it takes place on the level of the universal. Thus, mediation is firmly bound up in the ethical and the universal, and it cannot help to make sense of the religious or of faith.
Ordeal  -  The experience of being tested by God. Because of the constant anxiety, the constant possibility of retreating into the ethical, the experience becomes an ordeal that must be borne patiently.
Paradox  -  The paradox in Fear and Trembling deals essentially with the contradiction inherent in the religious. The religious states that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the finite is higher than the infinite, that one must make the leap of faith by virtue of the absurd. On the ethical level, on the level that we can all understand and talk about, Abraham is a murderer who almost kills his only beloved son. The paradox then lies in explaining why it is that this murderer should be praised as the father of faith. Abraham's faith cannot be explained or understood, it must simply be accepted as the only solution to the paradox.
Passion  -  Used in opposition to reflection, which is characterized by Johannes as the dominant mood of his day. Reflection is the disinterested intellectualization of matters, while passion throws itself in wholeheartedly. In particular, Johannes emphasizes the importance of passion to faith. Hegel approached faith from the perspective of reflection, and so failed to understand it. To make sense of faith one has to work toward it. The fruits of reflection can be learned from someone else, but one must experience passion oneself in order to learn it.
Recollection  -  According to Plato, the soul is immortal, and in previous lives it learnt about the unchanging, eternal Forms that are the ultimate reality. In this life, we are distracted by our senses and forget about the Forms. Learning about them, then, is a matter of recollecting what he have learned in past lives. All learning, according to Plato, is recollection, and so is the process by which we bring ourselves closer to the Good. Plato's recollection is contrasted with Hegel's mediation and Kierkegaard's repetition as one way that change can be accounted for.
Religious  -  The highest of Kierkegaard's three "stages on life's way": the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. The religious finds the single individual in an absolute relation to the absolute. That is, the single individual exists in a private relationship with God, that is, above the ethical and the universal. The knight of faith that represents the religious cannot be understood, but exists in total isolation and finitude.
Repetition  -  The process by which the knight of faith can give up what he most values only to regain it, by virtue of the absurd. By getting back what one has given up, one learns to appreciate it as though for the first time. In experiencing repetition, the knight of faith comes to learn that everything that exists exists only by the grace of God. Kierkegaard wrote a book entitled Repetition which was published on the same day as Fear and Trembling. In it, repetition is contrasted with and prized over Platonic recollection and Hegelian mediation.
Resignation  -  Infinite resignation is the experience of giving up what one holds dearest and reconciling oneself with the pain of that loss. The movement of infinite resignation is exemplified by the tragic hero, like Agamemnon, who must resign himself to the loss of his daughter, Iphigenia. The knight of faith also experiences infinite resignation, but moves beyond this point to regain what he has lost, by virtue of the absurd.
Single Individual  -  A term used in opposition to the universal. The single individual finds himself either in the aesthetic, living for himself, or in the religious, living for God. To express himself in the ethical, the single individual must annul his individuality and become a part of the universal.
Spiritual Trial  -  Unlike a test, a spiritual trial is the situation when the single individual overstretches his limits. Had Abraham tried to explain himself, he would not have been able to explain that he was being tested, but only that he was experiencing a spiritual trial. By speaking, he would be descending to the universal, where his sacrifice of Isaac is seen only as murder. By speaking, therefore, he would have failed, and his test would become spiritual trial.
System  -  The name given to Hegel's body of thought. Hegel organized his thought into one coherent "system" that was meant to comprehend all of philosophy. Hegel represents the height of "system-thinking." In our times, this kind of philosophizing has been largely rejected as overstepping the limits of human reason.
Teleological Suspension  -  Problema I asks "Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical?" "Teleology" derives from the Greek telos meaning end, or goal. Ethics is often considered teleological because it has some end purpose in mind. For instance, for Hegel, all ethical actions are done with the end goal of uniting with the universal. The question being asked in the first problema is whether there is some higher end or goal in favor of which we might suspend our ethical duties. Hegel would say no, Kierkegaard, Johannes, and Abraham would say yes.
Temptation  -  The word "temptation" is used in two different ways in Fear and Trembling. Earlier in the book, it is used synonymously with "test," denoting the ordeal God puts Abraham through. As the book progresses, it begins to be used to denote the draw of a lower stage of life upon a higher. Abraham is thus tempted by the ethical: he knows that he could choose at any moment to take the ethical rather than the religious path.
Test  -  In short, what God does to Abraham. A test is something God imposes upon people to test their faith. God demands a suspension of one's ethical assumptions and asks that his subjects act in complete faith and obedience to his guidance.
Tragic Hero  -  The ethical counterpart to the religious knight of faith. The tragic hero gives himself over completely to the universal, and is willing to make the movement of infinite resignation, giving up what he values most, for the sake of the universal. Unlike the knight of faith, the tragic hero can be understood and wept for.
Understanding  -  The mind's ability to comprehend something. According to Hegel, understanding is dictated by mediation. The significance of understanding in Fear and Trembling is Johannes' constant assertion that Abraham cannot be understood. Understanding deals with language and with the universal, and the knight of faith is above all of these. As a result, we cannot make sense of his behavior, we can just be awed by it.
Universal  -  Often used in contrast with the single individual, the universal is the realization of the ethical. The universal is, essentially, that which we all share in common. This is most obvious used in reference to ethics: there are certain moral principles that we all share in common, that we should all abide by. According to Hegel, the individual should strive to become a part of the universal as much as possible.

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